The Nationals Risk Becoming One Of The Best Teams To Never Reach A World Series
The Washington Nationals have played 85 games. They are 42-43. They have lost five straight games, been shut out in seven of their last 22 and are at the point they’re having players-only meetings.
It’s been a stunningly disappointing season for a team expected to contend for the National League pennant. But the risk of disappointment extends beyond just this year.
Without a furious second half rally, the present-era Nationals run the risk of joining a group no one wants to be in: the most talented teams to never reach a World Series.
The Nationals averaged 93 wins a year from 2012-17, winning four division titles in six seasons. They’ve had, at various points, peak performance Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Jordan Zimmermann, Trea Turner, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche, Doug Fister, Wilson Ramos and Joe Ross, not to mention highly talented prospects come up like Juan Soto, Reynaldo Lopez, Victor Robles and Felipe Vazquez.
Harper, you may have heard, is a free agent at the end of this season. So are Gonzalez and Murphy. Rendon and Tanner Roark will be free agents after next season. So too could Zimmerman, Adam Eaton and Sean Doolittle depending on if the Nationals exercise their team options.
If the Nationals can’t stage a rally and their talent base begins to disperse, they’ll have had one of the best collections of talent to never reach a World Series.
Here’s a look at the group they’ll try to avoid joining: the most loaded teams of the past 30 years to have never even reached the Fall Classic.
2002-2010 Minnesota Twins
The Twins are often remembered as the small-market team that could, but that massively shortchanges the talent base they built. They had a winning record in eight of nine seasons, won 90-plus games five times, won six division titles and perennially trotted out MVPs, Cy Young candidates and All-Stars. At various points during their run, the Twins had Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, David Ortiz, Francisco Liriano, A.J. Pierzynski, Jim Thome, Matt Garza, Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Jacque Jones, Shannon Stewart, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, Luis Castillo, Corey Koskie, Eddie Guardado, J.C. Romero and Delmon Young, as well as a young Carlos Gomez, Ben Revere and Jason Bartlett. For all that talent, the Twins kept coming up short in the playoffs. After reaching the ALCS in 2002 they couldn’t get past the Division Series, losing to the Yankees four times (by a combined 12 games to two) and getting swept by the A’s in 2006.
2000-2006 Oakland Athletics
Ah yes, those A’s. Oakland averaged 95 wins a season and made the playoffs five times in seven years from 2000-2006. The Athletics rosters included Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Eric Chavez, Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon, Frank Thomas, David Justice, Dan Haren, Nick Swisher, Jason Isringhausen, Keith Foulke, Billy Koch, Ramon Hernandez, Jason Kendall, Rich Harden, Mark Kotsay, Huston Street, Eric Byrnes, Joe Blanton, Mark Ellis, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly, Jay Payton, Marco Scutaro and Milton Bradley. They also drafted Andre Ethier, Kurt Suzuki, Trevor Cahill, Bobby Crosby, Jeremy Bonderman, Cliff Pennington and Dan Johnson during this time. They were a complete organization, top to bottom, constantly replenishing whatever talent they lost. But postseason heartbreak repeatedly followed. They lost Game 5 of the ALDS four years in a row, blowing 2-0 series leads in 2001 and 2003 and a 2-1 series lead in 2002. They finally got to the ALCS in 2006 but were emphatically swept by the Tigers, with Magglio Ordonez’s walkoff three-run homer to end Game 4 representing the gut-punch closing of the A’s window. While they became the darlings of the analytics community and had a book and movie written about them, the A’s never got what their talent was worthy of: a World Series.
1995-2001 Seattle Mariners
The Mariners had Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, lost them all, and still won 116 games in 2001. In all, the Mariners made the playoffs four times in seven seasons with those three on their roster at various points, plus Ichiro, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Tino Martinez, John Olerud, Jamie Moyer, Mike Cameron, Bret Boone, Carlos Guillen, Raul Ibanez, Freddy Garcia and Aaron Sele. David Bell, Jeff Fassero, Dan Wilson, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Gil Meche, Mike Blowers, Joey Cora, Luis Sojo, Paul Sorrento and David Segui made up a strong supporting cast as well. But as talented as the Mariners were, they ran into even more loaded Indians teams in the 1995 ALCS and 1997 ALDS, and the dynastic Yankees unceremoniously dumped them in both the 2000 and 2001 ALCS. The Mariners have not been been back to the postseason since.
1997-2001 Houston Astros
The heyday of the Killer B’s was really something. The Astros won four division titles in five years, averaging 90 wins a year, but couldn’t get past the Division Series. Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Darryl Kile, Mike Hampton, Billy Wagner, Moises Alou, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Luis Gonzalez and Carl Everett all suited up for the Astros during this time, as did a young Bobby Abreu. But they kept running into the mighty Braves in the first round, losing to them in 1997, 1999 and 2001. The best Astros team won 102 games in 1998, but was summarily dispatched by the Padres in four games. The pain wouldn’t last long, though. The Astros made it to the World Series in 2005, and won it 12 years later.
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1996-1999 Texas Rangers
When it comes to offense, the 1996-99 Rangers were hard to beat. Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Will Clark, Dean Palmer, Rusty Greer, Todd Zeile, Lee Stevens and Mickey Tettleton all provided middle-of-the-order thump at various point, with Tom Goodwin, Mark McLemore, Royce Clayton and Fernando Tatis filling in around them. They scored more than 900 runs three times in four years, and thus claimed three AL West titles in four seasons. But the Rangers didn’t have the pitching to support it, with Ken Hill, Darren Oliver, Rick Helling, Aaron Sele and John Burkett the best of an uninspiring group of starters and John Wetteland standing out in an otherwise unexceptional group of relievers. The Rangers didn’t have the pitching to survive the postseason and lost in the ALDS three times to the Yankees by a combined nine games to one.
1996-97 Baltimore Orioles
It was only a two-year run, but what a two years it was. The Orioles reached back-to-back ALCS in 1996-97, featuring rosters that included Cal Ripken, Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Mussina, David Wells, Bobby Bonilla, Jimmy Key, Scott Erickson, B.J. Surhoff, Randy Myers, Arthur Rhodes, Armando Benitez, Brady Anderson, Jeffrey Hammonds and Chris Hoiles. They were among the most fearsome offenses in baseball, dispatched a talented Indians team in the 1996 ALDS and the aforementioned Mariners the 1997 ALDS, but just couldn’t get over the hump in the ALCS. Particularly painful was how close they were. Derek Jeter’s tying home run in the eighth inning of Game 1 in 1996 (with an assist from Jeffrey Maier) is etched in everyone’s memory, but more painful was Game 3 when, with the series tied at one game apiece, Mussina surrendered a 2-1 lead with two outs in the eighth inning to turn the series. In 1997, the Orioles won Game 1 of the ALCS, lost three straight one-run games, won Game 5 and then lost another one-run game in extra innings to lose Game 6 and the series.
1990-92 Pittsburgh Pirates
The 1990-92 Pirates define the term "painfully close.” They had Barry Bonds, Bonilla, Doug Drabek, Andy Van Slyke, Jay Bell, John Smiley, Zane Smith and, briefly, a young Moises Alou, Tim Wakefield, Denny Neagle, Al Martin and Rick Reed. They averaged 96 wins a season and got to the brink of the World Series all three years, but came up short over and over. In the 1990 NLCS, they won Games 1 and 5 but blew early leads or ties in Games 2, 3, 4 and 6, falling to the hated Reds. In the 1991 NLCS, they led the Braves three games to two and then were shut out at home in Games 6 and 7. And in 1992, they were one out away from winning Game 7 and reaching the World Series when, well, this happened.
1987-1996 Montreal Expos
The strike-bitten 1994 Expos are the team in popular lore, but they had talent well beyond just that one season. The posted a losing record only twice in the 10 seasons from 1987-1996. They won 91 games in 1987, 94 games in 1993 and 88 games in 1996. They had, in their primes, Tim Raines, Andres Galarraga, Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou, Pedro Martinez, Dennis Martinez, Tim Wallach, Mark Langston, Delino Deshields, Ken Hill, Jeff Fassero, John Wetteland, Jeff Shaw, Mike Lansing, Kirk Rueter, Cliff Floyd, Rondell White, Henry Rodriguez, Darrin Fletcher, Mark Grudzielanek, David Segui and Ugueth Urbina all at one point or another, not to mention a tall, wild lefty named Randy Johnson at the very beginning. The wins stopped after 1996, but the talent pipeline didn’t. In 1997-98, the Expos unveiled a group of homegrown youngsters named Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera, Jose Vidro, Brad Fullmer and Javier Vasquez. And yet, despite the decade-long flow of MVPs, Cy Young Award winners, Rookie of the Year candidates and All-Stars, the Expos never even made the playoffs.
Honorable Mention—The best teams who made it to a World Series but never won: 2011-14 Detroit Tigers, 1995-2001 Cleveland Indians, 1997-2003 San Francisco Giants.